Iraq's Shia government begins crackdown on Sunni 'terrorists'
Iraqi protestors shout slogans during a demonstration in the Iraqi city of Samarra in early March demanding the ousting of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMOUD AL-SAMARRAI)
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Iraqi authorities sent security forces to break up demonstrators at the main rallying point for anti-government Sunni protests in Western Iraq in the early hours of Saturday, AP reported.
Authorities justified the crackdown, warning that the area had become a haven for terrorists.
According to the news agency, witnesses reported seeing a large number of security forces, including more than 20 Humvees, deployed before dawn on Saturday on the highway in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar. They said the forces withdrew from the area later in the morning.
The head of police for the western Anbar region, Brig. Gen. Hadi Arzeij, announced the crackdown in a televised press conference the same day.
"The protest site has become a safe haven for some terrorists, terrorist networks and killers," he said.
"As security forces, we do not allow a presence like this regardless of any pretext or excuse," he added.
The crackdown follows over two months of protests at the site by Sunni Arabs against the Shia-led government.
The demonstrations follow the arrest in late December of bodyguards assigned to the Sunni finance minister, Rafia al-Issawi, though they tap into deeper Sunni grievances of perceived discrimination by the government of Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Arzejjm said on Saturday that security forces made their move after carrying out a series of arrests in recent days against alleged militants linked to the protests.
He claimed that among those detained was a member of al-Qaeda in Iraq who told authorities about terrorist networks operating in Ramadi that were planning to carry out attacks.
Saturday's announcement follows the resignation of Iraq's agriculture minister, Izzeddin al-Dolah, on Friday.
Al-Dolah, the second high-profile Sunni minister to quit government this month, announced his resignation after police opened fire on Sunni demonstrators in the northern city of Mosul, killing one protestor and wounding five others.
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